Spain newcomers must step up for two-time champions in Group D
An in depth look at Spain, who will take on Croatia, Czech Republic and Turkey in Group D at Euro 2016.
At a glance:
Winners of the last two Euro titles, but in the midst of a transition period, Spain will try to reach the final stages of the tournament with a blended team of old and new faces, and a huge question mark up front.
After yet another successful season for Spanish football clubs in Europe -- a Spanish Champions League final between two Madrid teams plus three semifinalists and champions Sevilla in the Europa League -- most Spanish fans and media still wonder whether the national team will recover their pre-2014 swagger at Euro 2016.
The disappointing 2014 World Cup made it obvious the squad desperately needed fresh blood, so coach Vicente del Bosque has progressively introduced a few changes in the starting lineup. The familiar faces of Andres Iniesta, David Silva, Sergio Ramos or Gerard Pique among others have started to link up with younger, less-capped players such as Bayern Munich's Thiago Alcantara and Celta's Nolito.
The main challenge lies with those new additions. They need to perform close to the level of a vintage Xavi or David Villa if Spain want to maintain their domination of European football at the national team level. The talent of these newcomers is apparent, but the shoes of the departed are remarkably big to fill, especially in such a demanding tournament.
Andres Iniesta. At age 32, the diminutive midfielder from Albacete has played one of his most complete seasons ever for Barcelona. If he can replicate his club form with Spain, the team will not only enjoy plenty of possession, but will also know very well how to damage their opponents with the ball.
After Xavi's retirement, Iniesta is the most capable player left to act as the integrator for the new players into the already established style of the national team.
No one doubts Spain's ability to defend and maintain ball possession. Scoring, though, is a different matter. In previous tournaments, Spaniards could trust Villa and Fernando Torres to find the back of the net when needed, but it's already been four years since Del Bosque had a striker able to play well in front of Spain's midfield. His quest has been unsuccessful so far. Solid strikers such as Diego Costa, Alvaro Negredo or Roberto Soldado can talk at length on how complex it is to play centre-forward for Spain.
Can the physically gifted Aritz Aduriz or the skilful Alvaro Morata fill that gap? Both forwards, talented in different ways, still don't look exactly like the type of player that could gel with the likes of Iniesta or Koke. If any of the selected strikers can find a way to exploit the service coming from midfield, Spain will be an incredibly tough opponent for any team in the tournament. Otherwise, they will struggle mightily to score.
Last week, Del Bosque declared the semifinal round was his aim for this tournament. After the underwhelming performance in the 2014 World Cup, that would mean that Spain would get back to the successful path of the glorious 2008-2012 spell with a top-level finish. However, if they find their much-needed striker, the sky is the limit.
Eduardo Alvarez covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @alvarez.